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Why Python 3 Isn’t the Default Binary: Explained

Ubuntu 7

Python is one of the most popular programming languages in the world. It’s known for its simplicity and readability, making it a great choice for beginners and experts alike. However, if you’ve ever installed Python on a Linux system, you may have wondered why Python 3 isn’t the default binary. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons behind this decision and what it means for you as a developer.

Quick Answer

Python 3 isn’t the default binary on Linux systems, such as Ubuntu, because it was designed to fix fundamental design flaws in the language, making it not backwards compatible with Python 2. Keeping Python 2 as the default prevents unnecessary breakage of existing scripts written for Python 2. However, there are plans to eventually make Python 3 the default, but this transition will be done gradually and with caution.

A Brief History of Python

Python was first released in 1991, and it has since gone through several major versions. Python 2, released in 2000, introduced many features that made the language more powerful and flexible. Python 3, released in 2008, was designed to fix some fundamental design flaws in the language. However, it was not backwards compatible with Python 2, which meant that code written for Python 2 would not necessarily work on Python 3.

The python Command and Binary

On most Linux systems, including Ubuntu, the python command refers to Python 2.x, while python3 is used to explicitly invoke Python 3.x. This is because the python command was originally associated with Python 2, and changing it to point to Python 3 could break scripts that expect python to be Python 2.

If you type python -V into the terminal, it will display the version of Python that the python command refers to. Similarly, typing python3 -V will display the version of Python 3 that is installed.

Why Python 3 Isn’t the Default

The decision to keep Python 2 as the default was made to prevent unnecessary breakage of existing scripts that were written for Python 2. By maintaining the python command as Python 2, scripts that rely on it will continue to work as expected. This is especially important for older systems that may not have knowledge of python3.

However, there are plans to migrate everything to Python 3 in the long term. This means that eventually, python may refer to Python 3.x. But this transition will be done gradually and with careful consideration to avoid any compatibility issues.

Using Python 3

To use Python 3, you need to explicitly use the python3 command. This is recommended if you need a specific version of Python or if you are writing new code that is intended to be compatible with Python 3.

In Ubuntu, both Python 2 and Python 3 versions are included by default. You can check the version of Python you are using by typing python -V or python3 -V in the terminal.

It’s worth noting that the naming convention and default behavior of Python binaries may vary across different Linux distributions. Some distributions, like Arch Linux, have chosen to make python refer to Python 3. However, this is not the case in Ubuntu.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Python 3 is not the default Python binary to maintain compatibility with existing code written for Python 2. However, there are plans to eventually make Python 3 the default, but this transition will be done gradually and with caution. As a developer, it’s important to be aware of these differences and to specify the correct version of Python when writing and running your scripts.

Why is Python 2 still the default binary on Linux systems?

Python 2 is still the default binary on Linux systems to maintain compatibility with existing code written for Python 2. Changing the default to Python 3 could potentially break scripts that rely on the python command to be Python 2.

How can I check which version of Python I am using on my Linux system?

You can check the version of Python you are using by typing python -V or python3 -V in the terminal. The python -V command will display the version of Python that the python command refers to, while python3 -V will display the version of Python 3 that is installed.

Can I use Python 3 instead of Python 2 on my Linux system?

Yes, you can use Python 3 on your Linux system by explicitly using the python3 command. This is recommended if you need a specific version of Python or if you are writing new code that is intended to be compatible with Python 3.

Are there plans to make Python 3 the default on Linux systems in the future?

Yes, there are plans to eventually make Python 3 the default on Linux systems. However, this transition will be done gradually and with careful consideration to avoid any compatibility issues.

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